Peace process will help Turkey’s accession process to the EU

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News – 6.5.2013 – Turkey’s bid to join the EU might have stalled, but the peace process and a new charter could help accession, the bloc’s envoy to Turkey says.

The peace process and rewriting of the Constitution are two key issues for the future of Turkey, the European Union’s envoy to Ankara has said, noting that it will bring Ankara closer in line with EU standards.

As Turkey and the EU mark 50 years of their relationship this year, the 27-nation bloc needs to give the message that membership will take place, Jean-Maurice Ripert told the Daily News in an interview ahead of May 9, Europe Day.

If you were to take a snapshot of Turkey-EU relations, what would you say?

Fifty years of relations between the EU and Turkey; many, many achievements; the incredible success of Turkey, economically speaking; accession negotiations for seven-eight years; a lot of frustrations because it does not go fast enough. But a commitment from both sides to the idea that we need each other; that the future would be better if we stay together. 2013 could be, to use the word of Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, a new year of trust. And we believe that. We think there is a green light again on the path to accession. The prospect is to consolidate this, to keep the momentum. Trust was probably something which was lost for a few years because of this very lengthy, frustrating process.

But so far the signals coming are not that encouraging. France lifted its veto on one chapter only.

France is working on those chapters; they told us that they are considering the possibilities on Chapter 17. Turkey is working hard on Chapter 19. So there is another prospect. We hope that the new dynamism in the negotiations will help convince Cyprus to lift its restrictions. At any rate, the best way is to have one chapter open in each presidency. This is the objective of [Turkish EU Minister] Egemen Bağış.

In general, there is the impression that the EU is sidelined in Turkey, that it is no longer on the agenda.

I don’t believe this for one second. I arrived 16 months ago, and I have not met one single person who has said I don’t want to join the EU. People are frustrated and don’t think that it will happen soon. But if we are able to put some dynamism in the negotiation and give again a sense that “yes, it will happen in your lifetime,” then people will be committed.

Does it strike you that people in Turkey are still committed despite the difficulties the EU is facing?

It means that the people understand what the EU is. It is the most incredible project of peace, prosperity and human rights. This is why so many people are still interested. We have problems; we are fighting to get back on track. We will get over this crisis and we will be more integrated. Some people in this country are not totally convinced that a more integrated EU is suitable for Turkey. And we have to convince them saying Turkey should join whatever happens in the integration. Beyond the financial crisis, the idea that Turkey belongs to the same community of values is most important, and most of the people in this country want to enjoy the same level of freedom.

[Prominent Turkish economist] Kemal Derviş has been saying the EU might take a multi-layered form and that that might suit Turkey – a sort of U.K. formula.

What the U.K. will be negotiating first of all, we don’t know. This idea of opting out of some policies is fine except that to opt out, you have to be in first. The core of the EU, the common market, the Copenhagen criteria – the U.K. will remain in that. In any case, joining the same level with the EU will not prevent Turkey from having to first negotiate accession.

There is a second element in Derviş’s statement, and there I feel the same.

What he says is that if we don’t have realistic prospects for full accession, then there will be complete frustration, so we have to recreate some kind of expectation on a different kind of link with the EU.

The people in Turkey deserve to know what we are preparing for them. We have to give back the sense that “yes, something will happen; you will not wait at the door of the EU for the next 30 years,” because that wouldbe unfair.

So far this message has not come.

You can go on blaming the EU for the next century, but it will not move the accession process forward. … Every time some [Turkish] politicians blame the EU, do you think it increases the popularity of accession in the EU? Let’s try to be positive.

In the past, the EU would have been taken as a reference point. Does it still remain a reference point? Does the EU has lost its leverage over Turkey?

We are not trying to have leverage. Look at want has happened in the last two years. People in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen are calling for democracy. Turkey committed itself to these values. We are not promoting EU values, they are universal values. You do not do it to please the EU.

There is no reason to stop that because the technical process is slowing down. That is why I don’t want to create the link. What we see is the constant progress of reform, especially this year.

The latest progress report was disappointing for Turkey; criticism was strong. Since last year, [there have been] many, many very positive movements: the creation and entry into force of an ombudsman; the creation and entry into force of the national institution of human rights; the law on foreigners; the third and forth judicial reform packages; the implementation of the law of violence against women. This is a significant reason to be optimistic because Turkey has not renounced going further in implementing the political criteria; there are still a few problems on which we have to work, but the progress has been immense.

What you see as immense progress might not be sufficient for some.

The alignment process means that we are comparing the level and status of freedoms, rule of law and democracy in this country to the requirements of the EU. On the contrary, I think sometimes we are a little bit hard because we are asking Turkey to comply with some sort of ideal state. But we are not saying there are two categories of democracies. We recognize some still missing evolutions: We are concerned with freedom of the media; freedom of expression.

What are your thoughts on the rewriting of the Constitution?

The redrafting of the Constitution in connection with the peace process, reconciliation in the southeast are two key issues that are closely related. We are committed to fighting terrorism. We have a strong dialogue with Turkey on that. The PKK [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] is still on the terrorist list of the EU. Of course, to make peace is a difficult endeavor; but it will bring something very important: pride, dignity, the recognition of some sort of identity, cultural rights, the use of people’s own languages for non-Turkish citizens; this is very important. It will also help in fighting regional disparities, which is one of the requirements for the accession process; the southeast has some difficulties, economically and socially speaking. So an agreement by all the citizens of this country on the structure of the state, on identity, language rights and the fight against all kinds of discrimination, is key for the future of this country, and this will tremendously help the accession process of Turkey to the EU. [This is] because this will allow the government to go faster to cover the last leg of the democratization process of the country, which is needed to fully comply with EU criteria.

In what way can the peace process revitalize negotiations which have been stalled not because of the Kurdish problem but because of the Cyprus issue, for instance?

The European Council said, “Yes, we want Turkey to join.” Turkey has to pass thousands of laws and regulations and the EU will not do this, Turkey will. We have creative minds to overcome the difficulties of the freezing of chapters. We have created seven working groups working on issues which are under frozen chapters to show that the fact that those chapters are frozen does not and should hot prevent negotiations on technicalities.

I was talking more on the political side not on chapters.

So you rather mean to say that the peace process, if successful, will bring Turkey closer to EU standards.

Yes; and we hope it will end the terror situation and will help Turkey go all the way down in what remains to be done in terms of freedom of expression and independence of the judiciary.

Do you think the EU has played a role in reaching this historic turning point?

What was important was the will of the Turkish population to become part of the EU, the acceptance of the EU as a candidate, saying, “Yes, we want you.”

It was a driving force; there was some kind of attraction exerted on the government. Not to mention the economic benefits of the Customs Union.

How can the EU contribute to the process?

The EU should give back the sense that [membership] will happen and will not happen in another life. This is the most important thing. It will help building on this process. We have said publicly that once the day comes, we are ready to assess the consolidation of peace and assist, we can launch programs for instance for the reintegration of militants.

You say part of Turkey’s prosperity is based on the Customs Union.

This is obvious. Forty percent of the trade is with the EU; 75 percent of foreign direct investment comes from the EU. Some argue that the benefits of the Customs Union have ended due to the free trade agreement the EU is making with third countries. This view is being voiced more due to the upcoming agreement with the U.S.

When we are negotiating free trade agreements with partners, it impacts Turkey. We are [asking] those countries to negotiate with Turkey. We said to the Americans that we found the request of Turkey to have a free trade agreement in parallel justified, and we are urging the Americans to negotiate with Turkey; this is the most we can do.

There are even talks about ending the Customs Union.

What will be the consequences? Thousands of companies, hundreds of thousands of jobs are linked to EU investment.

Are there any hopes that talks in Cyprus will start soon? Some suggest Greek Cyprus should first deal with its problems and then tackle inter-communal talks.No, we think that time has come; that Cyprus could cope with both problems at the same time.